The organ is louder and more impressive than a piano, thought a young Christopher Houlihan. Now, the musician and professor sets out to teach the next generation of organists while also showing the world how colorful and exciting organ music can be.
What is your most cherished accomplishment?
I’m very proud of my Vierne2012 tour. Performing the six solo organ symphonies of Louis Vierne across the country in the summer of 2012 was a very satisfying challenge, and I believe it raised Vierne’s profile among music fans and perhaps in the general public as well. His music is grand and intimate all at the same time, and I think that sums up what I love about playing the organ.
To which destination would you travel just for fun? Why?
I spent a year studying in Paris and I’m long overdue for a visit back. The city is full of delicious food, amazing architecture, and organs.
How has a daily routine shaped who you’ve become?
I find it very difficult to stick to a daily routine, but I’m my most fulfilled when I’m practicing music and practicing yoga as often as I can.
What do you do off the stage that provides inspiration on stage?
My relationships with friends and colleagues keep me inspired and grounded. Playing the organ can be a very solitary experience, and I think any musician benefits from the perspective of others.
What was your most positive surprise in life?
Meeting my first organ teacher was a fortuitous surprise. John Rose took me on as a student at Trinity College in Hartford when I was 12. I had been taking piano lessons but was fascinated by the pipe organ, which seemed bigger and louder and more impressive to me than a piano (I suppose these things are still true!), but didn’t know how to find a teacher. I attended a performance he was giving and the rest is history.
Where do you derive happiness?
From cooking and eating creative food (I especially love throwing a dinner party for friends), from nature (I visit the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens as often as I can), and from seeing theatre. Of course I derive much happiness from music and from my performances, but when I need to recharge I turn to my hobbies.
Where do you want to be in five or 10 years from now?
I hope to be doing exactly what I’m doing right now: teaching and performing. However, I’d love to have more opportunities to perform with orchestras and to collaborate with other musicians. Both the organ and organists could benefit from increased exposure and collaboration with other musicians… to make a big generalization, we exist in a bit of a bubble, and I love chances to break out of that niche.
What cause do you support and why? (This could be a particular charity, nonprofit, etc. like curing cancer or helping the homeless.)
Before beginning my current position as College Organist at Trinity College (Hartford), I was Director of Music at Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan. The church operates the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, the largest emergency feeding program in the city. It’s an incredible organization that not only serves lunches five days a week, but also provides their guests with a variety of other important social services.
What projects (concerts, albums, tours, collaborations) are you working on right now? Explain.
At the moment I’m looking forward to a performance at the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Kansas City this summer. The AGO's biennial conventions attract nearly 2,000 organists to a city for a week, so it’s an intimidating honor to be invited. I’m also collaborating on a program with trumpeter Zachary Silberschlag this summer, and looking forward to working again with percussionist Doug Perry in the fall.
What’s the one thing you want people to remember about your artistry?
That organ music is expressive, colorful, and exciting.
Where do you come up with your best ideas that you might end up applying to a score?
Anywhere away from the organ, especially on the subway or walking through a park.
Name three musicians who have inspired your own artistry.
Aside from my teachers who have each influenced me immensely, the few recordings of organists Robert Glasgow and Marie-Madeleine Duruflé have been huge inspirations and are prime examples of the perfect balance between musical refinement and virtuosic thrill.
Business of Music
What is your #1 piece of advice to artists who are starting their careers as professional musicians?
Be yourself and make music with your own voice. It’s far too easy to waste time and creative energy worrying what your colleagues and your peers think of what you’re doing.
How do you run your professional career as a business? Do you prefer working with a large team of managers, consultants, publicists, record labels? Or do you prefer a small team? Explain. Any advice for others in a similar situation as you?
I’ve worked with a small team, and also relied on the advice of mentors, teachers and colleagues. I think it's valuable to have a personal support network for perspective and consultation alongside any professional relationships.
Visit www.ChristopherHoulihan.com for details, videos, tour updates and more!